Chevron’s Moving Forward spreads big money across political campaign committees

Chevron Richmond poured at least $1.26 million into the Richmond mayoral and city council races between Aug. 14 and Sept. 29, funneling the money through three campaign committees, all with iterations of the name “Moving Forward.”

According to documents filed with the Richmond City Clerk, Moving Forward’s campaign committee, created in 2012, transferred at least $1.9 million as of Sept. 17 to two newly-created committees. The amount transferred exceeds the $1.7 million cash on hand figure that was widely reported after the last filing deadline on June 30. Moving Forward has likely received additional money from Chevron or other sources. The next campaign filing deadline is Oct. 6.

The two new committees have spent a combined total of at least $1,268,688.17 so far, with over a month remaining before the Nov. 4 election.

One committee has reported at least $969,139.02 in spending supporting Nat Bates for mayor and Donna Powers, Charles Ramsey and Al Martinez for city council.

The other committee has reported spending at least $299,549.15 in a counter-campaign against Gayle McLaughlin, Jovanka Beckles and Eduardo Martinez, progressive candidates and Chevron critics who are running for city council.

Moving Forward flow chart spending-2

Chevron has long played a role in local elections, and has hiked its political spending in recent election cycles as more upstarts have won council seats with anti-Chevron rhetoric as a cornerstone of their platforms. The company operates California’s second-largest refinery in Richmond, and its taxes fund about one-third of the city’s General Fund budget.

But this year’s massive spending, spread across multiple committees, represents an effort by the oil giant to ramp up the effectiveness of its political efforts and mask the size and scope of its campaign, according to a campaign finance transparency advocate.

“This is a good way, and I’m using the word good ironically, for corporations to obfuscate where funding actually comes from,” said Sarah Swanbeck of California Common Cause. Swanbeck added that the creation of multiple campaign committees with similar names is unusual.

None of the three Moving Forward committees’ representatives responded to requests for comment. All three committees list the same phone number, address, and share the same five people as treasurer, assistant treasurer and officers.

Bates, the biggest beneficiary of Chevron/Moving Forward’s spending, said he doesn’t know why there are three campaign committees.

“I have no contact with Chevron, that’s by law,” he said. “I think whatever they do will be legal, and I can’t imagine them doing anything illegal with respect to the contributions.”

There is a $2,500 limit on individual contributions to candidates in Richmond elections. But spending by, and contributions to, independent campaign committees like Moving Forward is unlimited, thanks to the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court ruling.

The two new campaign committees registered with the Richmond City Clerk in early August, according to campaign finance records.

One committee registered with the name “Moving Forward with Nat Bates for Mayor 2014, with major funding by Moving Forward, a coalition of labor unions, small businesses, public safety and firefighters associations. Major funding by Chevron.”

The other registered with the name “Moving Forward with Corky Booze for City Council 2014, with major funding by Moving Forward, a coalition of labor unions, small bus., public safety and firefighters associations. Major funding by Chevron.”

On Aug. 26, the committee “Moving Forward with Corky Booze …” filed an amendment changing its name to “Moving Forward, opposing Gayle McLaughlin, Eduardo Martinez, and Jovanka Beckles for City Council 2014 …”

Booze, a controversial figure on the Richmond City Council, is running for reelection, and has been a consistent backer of local measures favored by Chevron. But he has also been the subject of increasing criticism for his combative style at public meetings, and his political opponents have questioned whether that style caused Chevron to distance itself from him this year, after supporting his campaign in 2010.

The “Moving Forward with Nat Bates …” committee filed an amendment on Aug. 19 changing its name to “Moving Forward with Nat Bates for Mayor, and Donna Powers, Charles Ramsey, and Al Martinez for City Council 2014 …”

Of the $1,268,688.17 in Chevron/Moving Forward’s documented independent expenditures to date, more than one-third has been spent on mailers, which Richmond voters pluck from their mailboxes on a daily basis. Another one-third has been spent on billboards. The smiling faces of Bates, Powers, Ramsey and Al Martinez can be seen from the city’s busiest streets and freeways.

20141002 MF spending types

Bates is clear that he will have a friendly relationship with Chevron if elected mayor.

“If I’m the mayor one of the first things I’m going to do is sit down with Chevron,” he said. “Let’s sit down and work together for Chevron’s benefit and for the City of Richmond’s benefit.”

While only one-quarter of Chevron/Moving Forward’s $1.26 million has been spent on negative campaigning against progressive candidates, in the period between Aug. 15 and Sept. 29 the committee spent more opposing Eduardo Martinez than supporting Al Martinez. Both are vying for the same seat. According to the available independent expenditure reports, Moving Forward has spent at least $89,000 opposing Eduardo Martinez, and at least $61,000 supporting Al Martinez.

Tom Butt, a city councilman and mayoral candidate, said there is not much he can do in the face of the more than $325,000 Moving Forward has already spent putting Bates’ face on billboards around the city and flooding residents with glossy mailers.

“They’ve already spent six times more than my budget, and before it’s over they’ll probably double that,” Butt said. “I’m not happy about it, but there’s nothing I can do.”

Beckles, the target of almost $100,000 in Moving Forward’s negative spending so far, has a different outlook. The campaign committee has attacked Beckles with websites and mailers questioning her performance on the council and adding up her receipts for fast food dinners and other on-the-job expenses.

“I’m pretty flattered that they see me as someone who is going to hold them accountable,” Beckles said. “All you need is four votes for anything to pass and they [Chevron] are trying to buy four votes.”

18 Comments

  1. Karen Franklin

    Thank you so much for putting this together. The graphs are superb for illustrating just how obscene Chevron’s campaign against an independent Richmond is. Residents in my neighborhood are feeling powerless against the deluge of hate mail being crammed into our mailboxes daily by Chevron. Let’s just hope it backfires!
    Karen Franklin
    President,
    Panhandle Neighborhood Council, Richmond

    • renate siman

      Karen,I’d like to come to your Oct.meeting.I am the recently appointed V.P. @ N+E .I am working on a New + REVISED Version of the WELCOME
      WAGON . Would I be welcomed to observe your meeting ? I’d LOVE to meet you. Best .Renate

    • Carole Johnson

      Hi Karen. You and your neighbors shouldn’t feel powerless. You can do what I do when I get those hateful Chevron mailers. You can throw them right in the trash or, if you have birds, you can use the mailers to line the bottom of your bird cage or, if you have dogs, you can use em as pooper scooters.

      • Carole Johnson

        Oops, I meant pooper scoopers.

        • Tony SUggs

          What hate mail? I read all the campaign mailers regardless of who they come from.

          I didn’t see any “hate” speech.

          Please tell us what information contained in any of the flyers that was a lie or was hateful. And if there were lies committed by either side, shouldn’t the candidates point them out?

  2. Mike Parker

    Great article and a lot of work sorting and compiling all the different forms . The mainstream media does not seem to think that buying an election is worthy of coverage. Actually it way understates what Chevron is spending. It does not count for example the PR Firm and staff of Chevron’s on-line phony newspaper. (See LA Times expose). It does not count Chevron’s contributions to organizations which themselves are politically active, like BAPAC, Chamber of Commerce. It does not count Chevron “tours” and its huge PR staff.

  3. Michael Beer

    Thank you for doing the research that exposes Chevron’s strangle hold on our city. It is not even a Richmond company. That would be like saying Domino’s Pizza is a Richmond company because they have an outlet here. Chevron is a San Ramon-based company and are only here to use us as fodder for its profit.
    As we approach the Home Front Festival, we remember that so many worked and fought and died for us to preserve democracy and here is Chevron with its bloated billions dissing all over them.

  4. Karen Franklin

    Piggybacking on Mike Parker’s comment about the PR firm:

    I have been struck by the calculated viciousness of the hate fliers against the progressive candidates. A story exploring the face(s) behind this PR firm that designed this propaganda could be fascinating. Who are they? What other campaigns have they worked on? Do they employ ancillary professionals, like private investigators (to dig up dirt) or graphic designers skilled in photo shopping? Are they basing their attack on empirical research about negative campaigning? Does such campaigning work on a local level like Richmond? Did they engineer the candidacy of “the other Martinez,” in an effort to confuse Latino voters? As a former journalist observing this gluttonous excess of campaigning., the questions I find myself asking are endless.

  5. michael

    Nice article – I for one, won’t be voting for any candidate sponsored by this miserable and shameful Chevron campaign. It looks like something done by K Street interns who know nothing about Richmond, not exactly a ‘proud’ feeling.

    And Chevron – I was at Occupy, you really didn’t get it do you – or do you? Occupy was about fixing the wrongs of corporations that behave like you, like overturning Citizen’s United so you and your ilk can no longer steal elections. For your inane demographic data collection – I hold a masters and am director of a nonprofit – I’m probably not your target audience based on your sophomoric mailings.

  6. Erick

    Really good article. Im a young college kid and finally decided to get involved in voting and this really helped me learn a lot about all these canidates. Although most advertisement just brings negativity about one another and less about their political beliefs and plans for Richmond which would be more concerning i think. But great article!

  7. Great article!

    Citizens United is an affront to Democracy.

    I hope those seeking its reform use this as evidence.

    The entire country should be alarmed, not just Richmond.

  8. Deborah Bayer

    I like the idea about researching the PR firm. Does anyone know its name? Or where the mailers were printed?

  9. Jerry Power

    I hope Richmond voters can see through the deluge of mud in their mailboxes and vote to keep Richmond City Council from being owned by Chevron to do what their masters tell them. What if the progressives do win? How can Chevron expect to work positively with people they have so viciously slandered?

  10. Mike

    When we achieved independence, our new country was VERY wary of corporations, for good reason, and restricted them greatly. Over the years those restrictions were eaten away until today, when corporations are considered people and their money speech. Citizens United, which poll after poll shows Americans oppose by about 4 to 1, is being played out, once again, in Richmond CA.

    Chevron is spending millions to get their candidates elected; if you’re a Richmond voter you’ve already received a handful of Chevron’s outrageous hit pieces. I’m calling on you, Richmond voters, to reject this example of Citizens United, and to vote for ANYONE but the Chevron candidates. There are plenty of good candidates; why choose those indebted to Chevron? Let Chevron know, let everyone know, that Richmond voters are AGAINST Citizens United. VOTE FOR ANYONE BUT THE CHEVRON SHILLS!

  11. It’s hard to find a better example of the negative effect on our political system that Citizen’s United case has caused. The irony of course is that purports to promote free speech, when really what it does is allow the giant corporations to strangle free speech by shouting so loud (as in buying up all the billboards, or clogging up the mailbox) that other voices have a difficult if not impossible time being heard. That said, I hope Richmond voters see through this kind of crap.

  12. The Chevron litmus test is a fallacy. 99% of Council business has nothing to do with the refinery and the 1% that does is already tightly regulated by state agencies.

    Anyone who thinks for themselves will reject the Chevron wedge issue and evaluate the candidates comprehensively, not whether or not they are sworn enemies of the city’s largest taxpayer.

  13. Marie DAvies

    Did anyone see Rachel Madow last evening on MSNBC? Yes our town of Richmond made her news program, please google MSNBC the Rachel Madow show telecast on 10/13/14 to watch the Richmond segment. Great news cast on how Chevron is trying to buy the Richmond race for mayor and city council. I hope everyone takes a look at the independent candidates not the old guard that is being bought by Chevron.

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